Fisher slash artist

Pape "Nene" Ndiaye

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I first spotted Pape “Nene” Ndiaye climbing up a perillous ridge on his way back to his bunker/studio with a bucket of fresh fish and mussels.

On top of the bunker — actually a gun emplacement from early colonial times — was daubed, “Fucking forbidden”. It would have been quite an experience nonetheless, overlooking a 200 foot drop to the surf-smashed rocks below.

Inside the bunker, I met Pape crouching over a little fire, cooking large mussels in a covered pan. The space was full of smoke and the ceiling was blackened, but I was immediately drawn to the large paintings on the cement walls … (to be posted when I have some free time)

Slow on the uptake

The TV was on late this evening, muted and ignored, until I noticed a series of clips showing motorbikes, cars and trucks trying to drive at high speed up sand dunes before getting stuck halfway up or on the crest. The bikes’ wheels spun sand jets vertically, while the trucks slid and rolled like beached whales. What was going on?

It’s been so long since I’d seen anyone bother to show images of the Paris-Dakar Rally on TV that I’d forgotten about its absurd existence. I mean, what’s the skill in trying to drive across the desert at top speed. You just go in a straight line and try not to hit anything, which is pretty easy in the desert, ‘cos there’s little there to hit.

An exercise in futility, to my mind.

Others consider it the greatest test of endurance in the world, whereas opponents such as the Collectif Actions pour les Victimes Anonymes du Dakar (CAVAD), hope to end what they see as a dangerous and arrogant act of wealthy northerners and their corporate sponsors breaking all the rules of safety far away from their own countries. With the 56th victim of the rally occuring this week, it would appear that hitting people in the most remote wildernesses is easier than I’d thought.

When we lived in Dakar last year, the rally had been cancelled because of the threat of armed attack in Mauritania (a number of tourists had been killed). So we never got to see the expats thronging at Lac Rose to greet the arrival of the rally. I don’t think most Dakarois cared less about it.

When I saw the extensive coverage of the rally this evening, I was shocked to realize that Le Dakar had changed route. I knew this kind of bending the borders was popular for boosting interest and gaining sponsors, as when the Tour de France bizarrely includes England or the Netherlands. But still … the Paris-Dakar is now a round trip from Buenos Aires and back, crossing South America and looping in Chile. Apparently this is the second year they’ve done it in South America. (That’s why I’m a bit slow on the uptake.)

Is it just me or is this weird? Like … [complete with witty example]

Clean your teeth, purify your soul

Sothiou salesmanThroughout the year in Senegal, but especially during Ramadan, the traditional toothpick, the sothiou, can be seen in almost every mouth. In addition to cleaning your teeth and freshening your breath, it is also seen as a sign of piety, distracting you from the evils of smoking, keeping your mouth pure for prayer time, and fooling your stomach by chewing something during the fast period.

Just as with the baffling range of toothbrush technologies in the north, so in West Africa there are different twigs for different folks. There’s the Saudi “siwak”, highly prized for its pain-killing effect; the myrobalan, tamarinier, cola, or my favourite, the “mate xewel” (meaning “bite your luck” in Wolof), which will supposedly attract money to its masticator. During Ramadan, however, the “nep nep” is king. One young salesman explained,

It’s the dryest one. It doesn’t make you salivate too much. It prevents bad breath, treats toothache, calms irritated gums and heals infections with its antibiotic power.”

With these claims and a price tag of only a few cents, the big toothbrush manufacturers should take note.

But take note: they don’t come in day-glo green, orange or pink.

You can see a sothiou in action in a picture I took previously.

Mbour Mblues on the Coke Coast

Name that tune …

Hey Jim, Jim? Where is Jim, man?
Jim, I want you to tell me somethin’
I want you to spell for me New York, Jim
Come on, Jim, I want you to spell New York

These days you could ask Jim how to spell Dakar, because a whole lot, whole lot of cocaine is running round West Africa, most through Senegal, with the resultant rise in Hummers and Escalades zipping along the Corniche with blacked out windows.

This week’s Guardian report repeats what has been public knowledge for over a year, that despite the obvious attraction to Colombian traffickers of a failed state like Guinea-Bissau, the lion’s share of cocaine seized in the region is further north, in Senegal.

The grim coastal towns south of the capital, Dakar, appear to be the most popular transit points, dumps like Rufisque and Mbour. Despite a few architectural remnants of former privilege and trading wealth — Rufisque was once one of only four cities in West Africa where inhabitants could claim French nationality — these days the only reason to be happy to see the place is that it marks the end of the bumper-to-bumper crawl out of Dakar — the only road out of the capital ! (average speed = 20 km/hr).

As for Mbour, looking on a map, one might imagine a sleepy, leafy town full of provincial charm, picturesque fishing port full of happy smiling people, a delight of unspoiled Africa for the popular neighbouring tourist resort of Saly. The reality, unfortunately, is a traffic jam the length of the single road through the centre, blocked with heavily loaded/leaning lorries from the titanium minings, belching low quality diesel fumes into the cars and buses around it; through the smog, you can see ugly buildings thrown up in 1970s style and not maintained or cleaned since; further still, the trash-strewn alleys lead to the fishers’ beach and a smell of discarded fish guts rotting in the sand. It is truly

a boyle on the erse of the world

as Chaucer might have said.

Yet to drug smugglers it is the capital of the Coke Coast; with busts of several tonnes of cocaine per year, one wonders how many more tonnes are getting through the underfunded, easily corruptible security forces. You can bribe your way in or out of the country; you can even bribe your way out of jail, as happened with the chief suspects of Senegal’s biggest coke bust (read more … in French).

The huge construction sites all over Dakar are probably one way the drugs profits are being laundered; it’s obvious that the scale of development is out of line with actual demand for new construction, and I predict a collapse in the Dakar property market in the next year.

And while some Senegalese may not care about what Europeans and Arabs stick up their nose, the influx of drug profits will surely rot local society, the drugs will seep into Dakar suburbs, turf and gang warfare to follow.

(>_<)>

Curious to see how, or even if, it will happen in such a traditional Muslim context.

I feel like Donald Trump

My cellphone runs flat each day. The battery is fine; it wears out because I spend most of my waking hours with the phone pressed close to my ear. Callers always seem to be surrounded by fighting couples with screaming children, stuck in heavy traffic outside a mosque with a new 5000W PA from the Saudis … either that or it’s a sign of my aging that I can’t filter sounds any more.

Hey, why beat about the bush: I hate cellphones. I hated regular phones already. Why do I have to be always available? I already get annoyed by the salesperson who answers another customer on the phone when I’m in the midde of a purchase. Doesn’t the person who’s actually, physically in front of you trump the other who couldn’t be bothered to quit their office/house/bed?

But I’m digressing to soon.

Why do I bother to spend so much time on the phone if I hate it that much? Sales, baby! I’ve discovered (yet another) new talent: wheelin’ ‘n’ dealin’! Buy low, sell high. Or in our case, buy tax free, reduce by 20% for six months’ use, bite your nails and count the days, then reduce by another 10% and bam! Reel ’em in!

What the hell am I talking about?

We’re moving on.

We’re clearing out.

Purging.

Downsizing.

I made a little website to sell our excess stuff — how the hell did we end up with three couches? — and have had 10,000 hits and 1,000 follow-up calls. While I was talking to one “customer”, I had two other callers lined up and an SMS on the side. It has been completely crazy and a hell of a thing to manage, with people coming by at all hours with wads of cash (:D) and others getting annoyed that I’d already sold the cutting board with an inbuilt drawer with four knives … Please stop calling … it wasn’t so great (actually I barely used it; I thought it was crap).

But it’s all good.

We’re leaving this place.

It’s the last time.

I’d say it’s for the kids — #4 due in April! — but it’s for all of us, truth be told.

Tired of corruption, incompetence and religious intolerance.

Seeking independence, respect for others and for the community, streets that get cleaned, people who respect their environment, bicycles, and eating food without worrying about the after effects for the rest of the evening.

Sorry Senegal. The spirit of Teranga (hospitality) passed us by. We leave with a feeling on unrealized potential on your part and our own. We would have liked to have enjoyed you more, and we would have liked the many wonderful people we have met to be able to fulfill their dreams.

Unfortunately we were all ultimately ground down by the chicaneries and nepotism, the hands-off, scratch-my-back, close-one-eye, grease-my-palm, pay-your-dues, know-your-place, kiss-my-ass, can’t-lose-face attitude that permeates all activity in Senegal.

(… to be continued … when I get off the phone…)